Ambassador Hamamoto: ILO Event on Womens’ Entrepreneurship Development

What in entrepreneurship development helps women entrepreneurs to succeed? – What the evidence is telling us 
Remarks by Ambassador Hamamoto 
International Labor Organization, Geneva
Friday, September 18, 2015

Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Phil Knight, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Jeff Bezos, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg.

They represent some of the world’s most iconic brands and products.

They all started small.  In a garage, the trunk of a car, or even a dorm room.  They’re also ALL male!

Why is it that even in my country — which is often used as a model for entrepreneurship – why is it that so few women have made it onto that list?

So while you’re pondering that question, let me say…

Good morning, everybody!

Thank you, Markus.

And thank you to the International Labor Organization for giving me the opportunity to open today’s event.

The question I just posed is obviously universal, and I’m really looking forward to hearing in a few minutes what programs and interventions our experts have found help women entrepreneurs around the world succeed.

I know how much gender equality and women’s empowerment matter to the ILO and all the other organizations represented in this room.

These are issues at the heart of what my Mission here in Geneva is doing with initiatives like The Future She Deserves and Geneva Gender Champions — initiatives which seek to generate concrete actions and commitments to support women and girls everywhere.

Unfortunately, progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder is right to point out, “is far less than what we had hoped to see by now.”

And yet, there are some encouraging signs.

And entrepreneurship — women’s entrepreneurship — is part of the answer.

Research by the World Bank shows that female-run enterprises are steadily growing all over the world, contributing to household incomes and growing national economies.

In my own country, women-owned firms are growing at more than double the rate of all other firms.

And women do it with less.

On average, women in the United States start their businesses with half as much capital as men.

But that doesn’t stop them!

According to the World Bank, their firms contribute nearly $3 trillion to the U.S. economy and are directly responsible for 23 million jobs.

In developing countries, female entrepreneurship is also increasing:  there are 8 to 10 million formal small and medium enterprises with at least one female owner.

The economy cannot unlock its full potential unless women and minorities are full participants in business.

That’s the message President Obama had last month for the startup teams of women, minorities, and young people — all of them underrepresented in entrepreneurship – who were present at the first-ever White House Demo Day.

“Ideas can come from anybody and anywhere and can be inspired by any kind of life experience,” the President told them.

“We’ve got to judge those ideas on their merits and make sure they’re not filtered by misperceptions about who people are or who’s capable of dreaming something up.”

To make that dream a reality, President Obama just announced the United States has secured more than $1 billion in new commitments from banks, foundations, and philanthropists to support entrepreneurship projects worldwide, with half earmarked for women and youth.

Today, we’re doing the same thing here in Geneva…providing support to women entrepreneurs.

Because women continue to face huge obstacles that stunt the growth of their businesses.

Because as Secretary Kerry said, “If women are able to thrive, societies thrive.”

Because women entrepreneurs need access.

Access to training and networks.

Access to finance.  Access to markets.

Today, I’m proud to say we plan to announce soon a $1 million grant to “WOMEN For Growth,” an ILO project on women’s entrepreneurship development in Morocco and Algeria, to be provided by the State Department.

You’re all familiar with the numbers:  Female employment rates in North Africa remain very low, at less than 20%.  Women’s entrepreneurship rates are among the lowest in the world, with only 12% of women running their own businesses.

But there’s something else behind these numbers — something that’s very hard to measure and also, unfortunately, very hard to change.

When you ask children in Algeria what they want to do when they grow up, most of them will say doctor or engineer.

Very few want to become entrepreneurs.  And the same is true in many countries around the world.

To change these stereotypes and old attitudes, all of us need to work together.

We need to put our minds together, harness our resources and encourage each other to push for innovative solutions.  And Geneva is the perfect place to start.

Nowhere else would an initiative like The Future She Deserves make more sense than right here in International Geneva.

In fact, the grant I just announced was possible in large part because the Office of Global Women’s Issues recognized how the ILO project fit perfectly with the overarching goal of The Future She Deserves: to enable women and girls to realize their full potential.

Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Phil Knight and others have changed the way we see the world, but so have the women entrepreneurs we are discussing today.

These enterprising women have already changed the way we see the business world, so that girls in Algeria, Morocco and around the world can one day say, I, too, want to become an entrepreneur when I grow up.

Thank you.